The History of West Dean Gardens

The restoration of the garden to get it to its current state began after the storm of 1987. Since then, Gardens Manager Jim Buckland and Gardens Supervisor Sarah Wain have carried out a bold re-development programme designed to bring the nineteenth century gardens into the twenty-first century. Jim and Sarah have divided the 90 acres of grounds into four distinct areas: the gardens entrance; the walled kitchen garden; the pleasure grounds and St Roche's Arboretum.

Visitors can come and see our 25 Years of Glorious Gardening photo exhibition, currently on display in the Mushroom Shed. Free entry with a ticket to the gardens (adult standard entry £9/£5.75, children go FREE). Learn more about the West Dean Gardens photo exhibition.

There have been gardens on this site since 1622 when the original manor house was built by James Lewkenor. In 1804, when the current house was built, the gardens were enlarged and park was laid out, and the kitchen garden was moved to its present position and enclosed by walls.

Many of the existing mature beeches, limes, horse chestnuts, planes and cedars date from this period and the present layout owes much to their planting. In 1818 the garden was extended to the west and flint walls were added.

Frederick Bower, who acquired the Estate in 1871, continued to develop the gardens and opened them annually to the public. Twenty years later William James purchased the Estate and made many improvements to the garden, including rebuilding and extending the range of glasshouses in the walled kitchen garden, the construction of the magnificent pergola in the North Lawn, plus a considerable amount of planting and refurbishment, both in the grounds and the arboretum.

On his father's death in 1912, Edward James inherited the estate. As he spent long periods abroad the gardens became subject to the genteel decline which was the fate of many large country house gardens at that time. The great storm of 1987 marked this latest period in the life of the gardens.

"Until 1987 the 170m strip bordering the main road was a heavily wooded shrubbery. On the night of the storm it was devastated, with over 60 large mature trees uprooted in a few hours. After clearance the strip was replanted as a secluded, sinuous walk that will ultimately regain something of its original woodland character. Replacement trees and shrubs have been chosen for their foliage, autumn colour and berries." - West Dean Gardens book

Find out more about the history of West Dean and the Gardens in the information book available from the Gardens Shop.

Be the first to know

Get unmissable event details, gardens news, inspiring courses and gardening tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Support West Dean Gardens

West Dean Gardens is part of a registered charity and its upkeep and care are only possible with the support of generous donors, friends and legacy gifts.

If you share our passion for the gardens and gardening excellence,
please find out how you can help support their upkeep.